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The Horrible Designs of an Apple TV Clone

This holiday season, my parents were quite nostalgic for the old country (for us, that would be Hong Kong), having just returned from a month-long trip there. They were missing the food, the useless crap they sell on the streets, and even the television channels. When they got back, they were bugging me about getting something that would at least let them live a past life vicariously through channel surfing.

The hardware is unimaginatively dubbed the TVpad, and it’s a custom build of Android running inside an Apple TV chassis whose main claim to fame is the ability to connect to Asian servers which aggregate and stream Asian content. This Frankensteinian product could only come from China.

Questionable legality aside[1], as I’ve been living in the silicon valley bubble of well-designed software products for a while, setting up the TVpad has easily been one of the more frustrating experiences in recent memory. The preverbal icing on the cake was when my dad had to call me on three separate occasions the day after I hooked up the system to ask how to work the thing.

Some of its grievances:

I’d like for the lesson to be that user experience matters and that we have come a long ways in making well-designed, beloved products. The observations here, though, actually point to the opposite: given enough value, bad design can be overlooked and users will willingly struggle to use a product if it does what they want. Design can be a differentiator, but only so long as the product is solving a problem. As much as I hate to say it, the TVpad uses like a turd but sells like toilet paper.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. And I mean that sincerely; I’m not sure what the laws of rebroadcasting and redistribution of television is like in China, although the reality is that governments and companies are resorting to launching PR campaigns regardless of whether a law is in place.
  2. The remote is your generic television remote from the 90s, in stark contrast to the slick TVpad box itself.